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5 Thoughts on Elkhorn’s 14-13 Comeback Win at Waverly

September 11, 2021

Hail Varsity was on the sidelines at Waverly on Friday night as the reigning Class B champion Elkhorn Antlers spoiled the Vikings’ Homecoming with a 14-13 come-from-behind win.

Here are five takes on the game.

No Guts, No Glory

Elkhorn played from behind for most of the game, but a touchdown with less than seven minutes to play gave new head coach, Dan Feickert, a difficult decision to make. Kick the extra point and tie it up, or go for two and the lead?

Feickert chose the latter, and it paid off. Quarterback Connor Hunt, who didn’t have a great game overall, made a huge play, fooling the defense with a fake hand-off on the two-point play and keeping it himself, looping around and running through a defender at the goal line to give the Antlers their first lead since midway through the first quarter.

The conversion proved to be the game-winner as the Elkhorn defense forced a turnover on downs, then — after a sack and forced fumble by the Waverly defense that the Vikings recovered at the 33-yard line — held Waverly to a 41-yard field goal attempt that went wide left. Hunt sealed the victory from there with a few kneel-downs.

Rising to the Occasion

Waverly senior quarterback Cole Murray suffered a leg injury in overtime of Waverly’s 27-24 loss to Omaha Skutt in week two and was not able to suit up against Elkhorn. Murray was responsible for more than half of Waverly’s rushing yards and all of its passing yards in the first two games of the season. He was the centerpiece of the Waverly offense.

Junior Trey Jackson, who had not attempted a pass at the varsity level, got the start in Murray’s place. Whereas Murray is a run-first dual-threat quarterback, Jackson is more of a pro-style passer, and he came out slinging the ball all over the yard.

Jackson finished 19-of-31 (61.3%) for 190 yards. In the first half, he went 13-of-22 for 141 yards as the Vikings only managed to pick up 17 yards on the ground. They led 10-6 at the break.

Jackson spread the ball all around the field as Waverly mixed it up between screen plays, quick out routes and shots downfield. Jackson converted six third downs through the air with completions of 11, 30, 20, 8, 14 and 16 yards, and he picked up another with his feet, on a 4-yard scramble.

Jackson wasn’t quite able to lead the Vikings to victory, but the Waverly staff had to have liked what they saw from their quarterback in his first start. He’ll likely have to hold things down for the next few weeks while Murray recovers from his injury.

Big Play Ability Remains for the Antlers

Elkhorn featured one of the best big-play threats in the state last year in running back Aiden Young, now at Nebraska as a walk-on. He was capable of taking any touch to the house, whether it be a carry, a reception or a kick return.

Despite his small stature, Young was a workhorse too, and Elkhorn is still looking to replace that aspect of his game. But it looks like senior Henry Kroger may be able to offer some of the same big-play ability.

Waverly looked to be in great shape in the fourth quarter, leading 13-6 with just over eight minutes to play. After a drive stalled out in Antler territory, the Vikings pinned Elkhorn at the 6-yard line with a fortunate bounce on a punt.

Kroger ran the ball up the middle for 4 yards on first down. On second down, Elkhorn got him the ball around the left edge with blockers ahead of him. Kroger followed the blockers until he saw a gap and shot through it, beating the Vikings to the end zone for a 90-yard touchdown that set up Hunt’s two-point conversion.

After missing his junior year with a broken ankle, Kroger finished with 123 yards on seven carries as he also had a 28-yard run in the first half. Senior Mikey Hart took a screen pass 59 yards on Elkhorn’s first possession as well, a drive that eventually ended in a short pass to Brody Schmielau for a touchdown.

Of Elkhorn’s 250 yards from scrimmage (not including penalties), 177 of them came on those three big plays.

Waverly Wideouts Can Play

Waverly had to completely change its style of play with Murray out of the lineup, but the Vikings had the skill talent to make it work, for the most part.

Riley Marsh, a Minnesota State Mankato commit, caught seven passes for 80 yards. Levi Powell snagged four passes for 59 yards. Junior AJ Heffelfinger gained 31 yards on three receptions. All three made catches down the field and picked up yards after the catch on short throws.

Waverly will have to find a way to have more success on the ground moving forward, but the Vikings have enough athleticism at wide receiver to be a good passing team if Jackson can continue to be on time and on target with his passes.

Fearsome Front Seven

Speaking of that woeful Waverly rushing attack on Friday, the Vikings, who averaged 137.5 yards per game on the ground in their first two games, managed just 66 yards on 31 carries against the Antlers (2.1 per carry).

Murray’s absence likely had a lot to do with that, but so did the Elkhorn defense, and particularly the guys up front. Aidan Betz is a player that caught my eye as a sophomore a year ago. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds, Betz starts both ways at defensive tackle and left tackle. Together with senior DJ Robinson-Long (290 pounds), that interior is tough to run against.

On the edge, linebacker Dane Petersen can be a force. He made some big plays defensively down the stretch, tackling Waverly running back Eddie Johnson after a gain of 1 on third-and-2. He also forced two incomplete passes with his pressure in the last 13 minutes, one on third down and another on fourth down.

Petersen, a standout on the basketball court as well, is an explosive leaper and great all-around athlete. Elkhorn didn’t get him the ball on offense on Friday, but he still found a way to make a big impact on the game.

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